BELLINGHAM, Wash. ? Amid allegations including financial mismanagement, the president of Northwest Indian College quit a mere three months after telling the press that he would continue to serve in that post.
President Tommy Lewis stepped down from his $87,000-a-year job in February along with his administrative assistant and two vice presidents. Northwest Indian College spokeswoman Lyn Dennis denied earlier press reports that Lewis had cut a deal with the College in January, but acknowledged that Lewis approached the trustees and negotiations took place.
"(Former) President Lewis did not make some kind of deal" Dennis said.
The Lewis tenure aroused strong opposition from many faculty, who with rare exceptions refused to be quoted by name. One, then-current employee Timothy G. Bowman, exchanged a series of emails with Indian Country Today to bring the situation at the college to this paper's attention. Bowman, whose Anishinabe name was Mitigwaabiiswinini, was killed on March 7.
Authorities are preparing to arraign his long-time companion Naomi Kinney, 31, with the crime and see no apparent connection to the college turmoil. (See related story on this site.)
Lewis received a paid ten-day suspension in November for reasons that were unclear. A Nov. 27 memo from Al Johnnie, Vice Chairman of the college's Board of Trustees, told Lewis that he had been suspended and forbade him from participating in any of the school's financial affairs.
This facts of this memo are now being disputed by the college board of trustees, who say that Johnnie acted on his own in reprimanding Lewis and did not act for the board or the Lummi tribe who oversee Northwest Indian College.
Phone calls to Johnnie regarding the matter were not returned.
One former professor willing to discuss the internal turmoil is Vivian Delgado, the only female American Indian with a Ph.D. on the college faculty. Last year Delgado (Yaqui) was the director of the Native American Teacher Preparation Program, the only four-year program at Northwest Indian College.
Delgado acknowledges that there were personal problems with Lewis She said that Lewis' wife was placed into her program as part of a so-called package deal with her husband.
"I thought that this kind of personal college politics wouldn't exist at a tribally run college, I guess I was wrong," said Delgado.
Bowman asked for anonymity in his last email to ICT, but because of his death, his words deserve to go on the record. "Our former president had a gag-order on anyone talking to the press (other than his spokespersons.) The Lummi Tribal Council went along with it. Even though he's gone, the political climate is still up in the air some. I was one of the 'whistle-blowers,' so I need to be careful not to put my job in jeopardy. Miigwech!"
Delgado says that she expected to be a long-term faculty member at the college but when problems arose pitting most of the department against Lewis' wife, Delgado says there was a systematic effort to eliminate the rest of the department.
In addition to her own contract, which was not renewed after only one year, Delgado says 40 other American Indian employees were forced out. "They left. In their view they were forced out because of irreconcilable differences."
Shortly before her own departure Delgado says that she hired an independent auditor to make sure that the grants she had overseen during her brief tenure were in order. The auditor, according to Delgado, found widespread
mismanagement of grant monies whose funds were often funneled to other uses, though she is quick to point out that the problem had existed before Lewis took over though she faults him for not doing anything to stop the problem.
When the heat began to come down on Lewis for not correcting the problem and for his alleged discrimination against American Indian employees, Delgado says that Lewis wanted out and demanded that the rest of his contract be paid in full.
Dennis and Trustee Charles Scott both acknowledged that Delgado did indeed hire an outside auditor but decline to comment on the specifics of whether or not money was being shifted between grants. They did say, however, that Delgado did not have authority from the administration to hire such an auditor.
"Vivian Delgado is no longer an employee here," said Scott.
Despite the rumors of widespread problems, Delgado is quick to point out that the majority of Northwest Indian College employees are honest and sincere educators and says that the problems of a few administrators should not reflect negatively on the campus as a whole.
Campus officials acknowledged that there was a fear that Lewis' actions would reflect negatively on the campus as a whole and said this was part of the reason that they would not directly answer specific charges against Lewis. The school issued a short press release announcing that Barbara Roberts had taken over as interim president and efforts were underway to reorganize the administrative structure at the school.
"The Lummi Indian Business Council announced today that they have endorsed the Northwest Indian College Board of Trustee's plan to re-organize the current administrative leadership," said the press release.
Delgado wholeheartedly endorsed the appointment of Roberts. "She's a wonderful educator," she said. "So the whole reorganization of the college is totally good news."